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EU Travel: Performing Artists

Volume 688: debated on Thursday 4 February 2021

What recent steps his Department has taken towards establishing cultural visas for (a) performing artists, (b) musicians and (c) support staff with the EU. (911817)

What recent steps his Department has taken towards establishing cultural visas for (a) performing artists, (b) musicians and (c) support staff with the EU. (911837)

The UK’s creative industries are the finest in the world, and this Government are, of course, determined to support them. I deeply regret that the EU rejected our proposals, which would have enabled performers, artists and support staff to work freely across Europe. In recent weeks, I have discussed our approach with leading voices from music, including the head of Universal Music globally and, yesterday, Sir Elton John and his manager, David Furnish. We are working urgently to develop a plan to make it easier to tour across all of Europe.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, such as it was. This Government’s Brexit reality has the live music industry staring into the abyss and sports such as Formula 1 unable to operate sufficiently. Mark Davyd, CEO of the Music Venue Trust, has said that his industry has been dealt a no-deal Brexit due to the UK Government’s refusal to get a deal on touring visas with the EU. Will the Secretary of State assure the music industry, F1 and others that he will put their livelihoods before anti-free movement platitudes and go back to the negotiating table with the EU?

Of course we continue to engage with the EU. As I say, I deeply regret that it rejected our offer. It is worth noting that what we put forward was what the music industry had asked for. We will continue to engage with the music industry, and there are opportunities both with individual member states and with the Commission directly.

One of my constituents is the orchestral leader of two major British orchestras. More than 50% of her work with British orchestras is touring abroad in the EU, but she is a self-employed musician, so she does not have anybody to wade through all this new red tape for her. Putting covid to one side, by what specific date does the Secretary of State hope to fix this absurd, bureaucratic, self-defeating situation, so that self-employed musicians can enjoy visa-free travel in the EU?

I agree with the hon. Lady: it is absurd and self-defeating. It could have been solved, and it could still be solved today by the EU matching the offer that we have unilaterally made to EU nationals. She talks about support. I know her constituency well; it neighbours mine. For example, The Horn music venue in her constituency, which is a home to emergent artists, has received a quarter of a million pounds under the culture recovery fund. The Goblin theatre has received £51,000. Wind and Foster has received £63,000. We are demonstrating as a Government through our actions that we are standing behind culture in this country.

The Government are very keen to blame the EU for the barriers being put in place for touring musicians, but Brexit was born and bred in the UK. Does the Secretary of State agree that the onus is on this Government to fix the abject failure in statecraft, and can he confirm what urgent steps are being taken to ensure that touring musicians do not become yet another example of the collateral damage of Brexit?

First, I would like to reassure touring musicians and all those in the creative industry. I know how important the opportunity to tour is for them; it is something I discussed just yesterday with Elton John, and I have discussed it with many others. It is a vital part of them building their careers. That is why we have set up the working group with musicians, so that we can find ways of supporting them to continue to tour not just in Europe but across the whole world. There are huge opportunities for the industry.

Sorry. I am glad to hear that the Secretary of State is working with the EU on this. Music is worth £5.8 billion to the UK economy, and I have been surprised at how many Putney residents and businesses rely on touring. I am glad to hear that the Secretary of State is working on a future plan. Will that plan be across the EU, not requiring red tape for each individual country, which will be a huge barrier? What is the Government’s plan to ensure that creative workers do not miss out on vital earning opportunities and a chance to represent Britain on the global stage?

I share the hon. Lady’s passion for the creative industries. That is why we have put the support in, including in her own constituency. For example, the World Heart Beat Music Academy has received over £100,000, and the Exodus track and the Deptford Northern Soul Club have received over £50,000. On what we are doing to promote touring, there are basically three threads to it: first, we are working with the industry to help it overcome barriers. Secondly, we are working across Government to overcome barriers; and, thirdly, we continue to engage both with the Commission and member states to see what further support we can provide.

I deeply regret that Ministers have rejected the EU’s offer. Like petulant weans, Ministers have walked away from negotiations on musicians’ and artists’ visas. The Government did not get what they wanted, and have given up. Stating that the UK’s door remains open is simply not good enough for the people who desperately need visa-free travel in the EU. Without it, there will be disastrous consequences. British haulage firms go on tours, but they will go bust. British crews will lose out to cheaper competitors from the EU, and all but the most successful bands will struggle to tour in Europe. The result will be bad for the economy and bad for culture. Surely the Secretary of State must now realise, as so many Tory MPs do, that renegotiations are the only option. Going off in a huff is not the answer; this is all far too important.

To be clear to the hon. Gentleman, the reason why we rejected the offer from the European Union, which he seems so keen to accept, was that it was not binding, it did not cover touring, it did not cover technical support staff and, crucially, it did not cover work permits. Of course, we continue to engage with it, but I must say to him that the most devastating consequences for musicians in Scotland would be to rip our precious shared cultural heritage apart by pulling Scotland out of our Union—I would note that £450 million a year is generated in Scotland through domestic music tourism; 90% of the revenue is through domestic markets—and that would be terrible for Scottish musicians.